Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Chivalrous [Brandon] Knight

Everyone knew it could happen.

For much of the year, Brandon Knight floated around on draft boards between a mid-late first round pick. Jimmer and Kemba drew the attention as the best PGs in the nation, battling for player of the year. Kyrie Irving basically went out on top by getting off to a hot start and getting injured. Knight meanwhile, struggled early on and has spent the rest of the season trying to improve his game. Combining his slow start with Irving's scorching start, Knight would have to make a huge jump to get his name in the same sentence as his Duke peer.

It just so happens that hardwork is what Brandon Knight is all about. Everyone knew about his strong character and work ethic. Scouts looked at this incredibly talented kid who also pulls straight As, studies game tape, is highly coachable, and basically lives in the gym with glowing eyes. He stayed in the mid-late first round on boards, but everyone agreed that he could be a lottery pick by June. Now, as Kentucky prepares for Kemba Walker's Uconn Huskies, Knight has drawn attention by helping his team to the Final Four. The buzz has gotten louder and louder every passing game. David Thorpe was one of the first to start the hype train, tweeting that he could go #1 by June. That was after Knight poured in 30 points against West Virginia.

Thorpe followed up his bold claim comparing him to MVP frontrunner Derrick Rose. Before then, most were in agreement that Knight was a step below Tyreke, Rose, and Wall. Thorpe backed up his claim by tweeting,

"He's not as explosive an athlete as D Rose, but he's a better scorer, shooter, and passer at that age. Rose has higher upside, not by a lot."

There really isn't an argument to be made there. The Memphis Derrick Rose was a spectacular athlete who used his physical capabilities to get himself to the basket. His upside is higher, but Knight isn't going up against Rose in the draft. Irving is his main competition and his upside isn't regarded as Rose or Wall-esque either.

When looking at Knight's game, there is a lot more at his disposal than what Rose offered to the Tigers.

Knight's main knocks are his point guard skills and average first step. I tweeted earlier today that he is the point guard version of Harrison Barnes. The comparison really makes a lot of sense - both are clutch (Knight has hit two game winning baskets this tournament), smart, have ideal physical tools defensively, possess average first steps, settle for jump shots too often, and have very high character. They both at one point were considered the best player in high school and had a tough transition into the college ranks. Their stocks dropped, but when they met today in the Elite 8, they looked like future stars.

Knight's first step doesnt bother me that much. Its what separates him from Rose, but a guy like Knight can find ways to work around it - he already has made plenty of adjustments. Excuse me while I compare him to two-time MVP winner Steve Nash, but I think there are some good points to be made in doing so.

When Nash came out of college, his first step also was criticized. Like Knight, he was fast, but he needed a few dribbles to get up to speed. Needless to say, as a fellow gym rat, Nash figured out how to get around his perceived short comings. Some guys just have that "it" factor and if you ask scouts, they agree that Knight is one of those guys.

For Nash, he blossomed in an up-tempo pace that allowed him to handle to the ball a lot. He was tough to stop in transition, like Knight, although for different reasons (in this aspect, he is more like Nash's former teammate, Leandro Barbosa - a one man wreaking crew), and was great at getting in the paint and keeping his dribble alive. I see the same qualities in Knight. He might not be a pure point guard yet, but he gets into the paint and shows great control inside. He can protect the ball with his body and change speeds well. Like Nash, he can learn to drive inside and keep his dribble alive while looking for teammates. I really don't think passing is going to be a big problem for him. Whatever system he gets put in, he will learn the inside and outs of the team until he knows where everyone will be at all times. He's just that kind of guy. Its hard to see him failing.

With his jumper, he has already succeeded. He has great mechanics, evaluating straight up and down, and NBA range. His ability to operate the pick and roll has improved, as him and Harrelson have developed great chemistry. You have to guard him for his shot, but he can capitalize on tight defense by heading to the basket. In the paint, he has excellent touch. It is something he has had to learn since his mediocre first step isn't always able to get him directly to the basket. He makes some fantastic shots/runners going away from the hoop like the one against Princeton.

Defensively, he has what it takes to be a terrific defender but he's not there yet. The Final Four matchup against Kemba Walker gives him the perfect opportunity to show what he can do. Kemba will most definitely have his hands full with arguably the most physically gifted point guards he has seen all year. Because of this matchup, I feel strongly about Kentucky winning the game. Kentucky has the advantage elsewhere and Kemba can't carry his team against a guy like Knight. At least I dont think he can. So far, Kemba has shown that its not smart to count him out.

Now am I simply overreacting to Knight's last few games? I don't believe so. We are talking about a freshman that was good enough to make SEC all first team. He was Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year twice. He is the floor general for a final four team. He was a sleeper among scouts all year long. Now its time to give Knight the time of day and the credit he deserves. He's not Rose, Evans, or Wall. He's his own player and has a chance to be the only one of Cal's point guards to win him the whole tournament.

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